inbound marketing

What Is Inbound Marketing? (How To Build a Profitable Strategy)

Jonas Sickler, Digital Marketing Analyst

If your team primarily uses outbound marketing tactics, then you’ve probably noticed how hard it is to grab a slice of audience attention these days. It turns out, folks don’t like disruptive marketing techniques such as cold outreach and programmatic advertising.

Fortunately, inbound marketing is the exact opposite. An inbound strategy helps you attract potential customers when they’re ready to act, nurtures the relationship, and delivers exceptional value through content marketing.

In this article, I’ll define what inbound marketing is, and how it works, so you can create a more diversified and sustainable sales pipeline.


What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing refers to the strategic creation of valuable content to attract, engage, and delight customers. The inbound marketing methodology is a form of pull marketing that was introduced by HubSpot in 2006.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

It’s easy to get turned around when trying to understand the concept of inbound marketing because some channels fit into both columns depending on how you use them.

For example, if you use email marketing for cold outreach, then it’s an outbound channel. However, if you use marketing automation to deliver personalized email content to subscribers, then you’re using it as an inbound channel to nurture leads.

In short, outbound marketing pushes a generic message out to a broad audience that didn’t raise their hand and ask for it. Think of commercials and telemarketing, for example. In contrast, inbound marketing focuses on attracting and engaging a specific audience by creating valuable content they want.

Examples of inbound marketing content

Inbound strategies use several different types of content marketing and formats, including a mix of informational, gated, and promotional content. The idea is to generate brand awareness and develop strong relationships while also baiting the hook to capture contact information, and ultimately close the deal.

So, while you develop your plan, think about how you can attract potential customers throughout the entire content marketing funnel.

Top-of-funnel (TOFU)

  • Social media campaigns
  • Public relations
  • Byline articles
  • Blogs
  • Guides
  • Infographics

Middle-of-funnel (MOFU)

  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Free tools
  • White papers
  • Email campaigns

Bottom-of-funnel (BOFU)

  • Case studies
  • Pricing pages
  • Product comparison pages
  • Sell sheets
  • Testimonials

If you want to learn more about funnels, then read our article, “What the Heck is TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU?

4 stages of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is about much more than website traffic. It’s a full-funnel marketing strategy that activates your audience at each stage of the journey. Let’s look at the four phases of the inbound methodology.


The first inbound phase is attraction marketing. Your objective is to introduce your brand to new audiences and drive traffic to your website. Content that works best in this stage include social media posts, bylines, public relations articles, and blog articles.

Blog posts based on the topic cluster framework are ideal because they cover many related themes from different angles.

Helpful software in this stage includes tools for keyword research, content optimization, social media monitoring and scheduling, as well as email outreach tools.


In the second inbound marketing stage, you need to engage your audience and convert interest into action. This phase is all about lead generation.

Your goal is to entice potential customers to exchange their contact information for valuable insights. Then, you can nurture them with drip campaigns until they’re ready to speak to a sales rep. The best types of content for this phase include white papers, market reports, e-books, and webinars.

Tools to consider here include landing page generators, conversion optimization tools, and email marketing software.


The third inbound marketing stage is closing the deal. Your objective is to clarify your value proposition, reduce fears, and demonstrate dependability. The best content marketing examples to include here are website solution pages, case studies, sell sheets, online reviews, calculators, and testimonials.

Valuable tools to close deals include a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, pitch decks, and sell sheets.

Delight & upsell

The fourth stage of inbound marketing is about delivering exceptional value to customers so they can’t function without you. In other words: help them see why they can’t live without you.

Your goal in this phase is to strengthen your relationship and highlight your results so they keep asking for more. Content that works best includes slide decks, quarterly business review (QBR) reports, social media posts, direct emails to POCs, video testimonials, and case studies.

It’s harder to nail down specific tools in this stage, but your CRM would be valuable to track data about your POC, as well as performance dashboards and data visualization tools.

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How to develop an inbound marketing strategy

Traditional outbound marketing techniques like cold calling aren’t enough to fill your sales funnel. If you want to flood your sales team with qualified leads that convert into new customers, then you also need an effective inbound marketing plan.

Here’s how to create one.

Research your target audience

Inbound marketing is about attracting and engaging your target audience with relevant content. So, if you want to be effective, then you need to understand your customer segments.

Gather data from your sales and product teams about your existing customers to understand your customer lifetime value (CLV) and customer lifecycles. Which segments stay with you the longest, and which ones are most profitable? On the other hand, do some customers cause friction, drain your customer support resources, and eat away at your margins?

The more data you have, the easier it is to segment them into groups so you can create customer personas.

Develop buyer personas

Market research is an invaluable step in the inbound marketing process, but it’s not very user-friendly. To develop effective marketing campaigns that resonate, you need to distill that research into something more actionable. In other words, you need a buyer persona that represents your ideal customer.

Customer personas should include vital information to help you understand how each audience segment thinks and behaves.

It’s a good idea to create several buyer persona examples based on each of your customer segments to personalize your marketing efforts.

Map the buyer’s journey

One of the strengths of inbound marketing is that it reaches potential customers throughout the funnel. To ensure you don’t miss key decision-making moments, map the customer journey from awareness to conversion.

Include every inbound digital marketing channel where you can interact with your target audience as well as friction points to overcome and opportunities to move prospects through the funnel.

Build trust with content marketing

High-quality content is the pillar of your inbound marketing strategy because it positions your brand as the ultimate authority in your space. Each piece of content you create should target a specific audience’s need at a key moment during their journey.

However, don’t just create separate, disjointed pieces of content or you’ll end up with a fragmented digital customer experience. Instead, develop a cohesive content strategy that guides customers along their journey.

Think of all the questions they have, and how you can use content marketing to provide the best answer.

Create lead generation landing pages

Salesforce and HubSpot stand out as some of the best examples of inbound marketing because they have massive content libraries. Although they give it all away for free, you still need to part with your contact information to get it.

However, content creation is just the first step in lead generation. You also need to promote the content across your website as well as other marketing channels. This can include paid advertising, strategic partnerships, influencer marketing, and of course calls-to-action (CTAs) within your own content.

The main objective is to direct traffic to lead generation landing pages where you collect contact information through forms. As a result, you’ll be able to market directly to users who opt into emails with highly targeted content.

Amplify inbound marketing with SEO

Your content marketing efforts will be wasted if your audience never sees what you publish. That’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is absolutely critical to an effective inbound marketing strategy.

In order to be visible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) when customers search for keywords that are relevant to your brand, your SEO strategy must be rock solid.

You need to consider search intent, on-page optimization, technical SEO, link building, E-E-A-T, user experience, and so much more. It’s not something you can do by hiring one person. You either need a complete in-house team, or you need to outsource SEO services to a trusted partner like Terakeet.

Use word-of-mouth for inbound marketing

Any small business owner will tell you word-of-mouth is their most valuable marketing asset. When happy customers share their experiences with a company, it builds trust, improves conversions, and drives revenue.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that successful inbound marketing campaigns also leverage social proof. In fact, most digital marketing strategies should include a Voice of the Customer program to collect and promote customer testimonials and online reviews.

Positive feedback helps you close more deals. And negative feedback is valuable because it can reveal problems that might cause brand reputation issues down the road.

In addition to sharing word-of-mouth feedback on your website, you can also include it in emails to potential customers who are on the verge of making a purchase.

Leverage social media marketing

Social media marketing is an incredibly powerful inbound marketing tactic for growing brand awareness. When you share great content on social networks, you’ll earn more followers, which means greater brand exposure.

Platforms like Twitter and Linkedin are excellent for content discovery tools, so you can introduce your audience to problems they might not know they had. Your social profiles will drive qualified traffic to your website where they can learn more about your company.

In addition, your audience may begin doing research in Google where they’ll discover your brand again. Multiple customer touchpoints like this reinforce your brand’s expertise and authority in your industry.

Nurture inbound marketing leads with email marketing

Unlike traditional marketing methods such as commercials, print ads, and billboards, email marketing gives you access to detailed metrics to measure your audience’s engagement. Furthermore, you can set up customizable automations that run based on user interactions and interests.

For example, you can customize your drip campaigns for each new lead that enters your database so they only see highly relevant content based on what they downloaded or subscribed to. Then, as users continue to engage with your emails, you can test new subject lines, links, and CTAs within the emails to improve conversion rates.

Boost efficiency with marketing automation workflows

Marketing automation is another pillar of inbound marketing because it allows you to automatically deliver more personalized experiences in real time.

Imagine this scenario: A potential customer searches Google to learn about something related to your services. This visitor clicks your website and reads half your article before an automated CTA pops up that offers a downloadable white paper.

The user fills out the form to get the download, then they begin to receive an email drip campaign with related articles, case studies, and testimonials. You may even set up conditional rules in the sequence to deliver unopened emails again with a different subject line.

Each time the user interacts with a piece of marketing collateral, your marketing automation software scores give the contact a few points. And when they reach a certain score, you get an alert to invite them to a sales call.

That scenario just scratches the surface of how marketing automation can support your inbound strategy. You can also leverage social media sharing software, chatbots, and even fully customizable landing pages for your top leads.

Test and optimize your inbound marketing strategy

The most important thing to understand about inbound marketing is that it’s an iterative process. You must constantly test, measure, and optimize everything.

Micro improvements in conversion rates on one end can ripple through your entire strategy and drive millions in incremental revenue. If you build a working model with formulas to track conversions from traffic, to lead, to customer, then you’ll see the compounding value of improving every element within your strategy.

The reason why inbound marketing works so well is because it delivers efficiency, personalization, and unique value. You might be able to reach a larger audience with outbound marketing, but it won’t be as targeted. Furthermore, you can’t provide personalized value with generic messaging that leads to trust, engagement, and sales.

Inbound Marketing FAQs

What is an inbound marketing strategy?

Inbound marketing refers to the strategic creation of valuable content to attract, engage, and delight customers. The inbound marketing methodology is a form of pull marketing that was introduced by HubSpot in 2006.

What are the types of inbound marketing?

The most common types of inbound marketing include:
-Social media posts
-Third-party articles
-Blog posts
-Webinars & podcasts
-White papers
-Targeted email campaigns

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